Tea With Mussolini

Year: 1999
Production Co: Cattleya
Director: Franco Zeffirelli
Writer: Franco Zeffirelli
Cast: Cher, Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Joan Plowright, Lily Tomlin

This Merchant/Ivory-style film comes with ladelsful of acting talent. If you watch the trailer almost every actor is introduced as an Academy Award winner or nominee.

Joan Plowright is the secretary to a hot-headed Italian businessman in Florence in the 1940s and also part of the expat community of British women who take tea, appreciate art, have garden parties and gossip about their American counterparts.

Finding herself unwitting minder to her boss' son, she all but brings him up in her circles, and all the while Mussolini's grip tightens around the country. After several of their number travel to Rome to receive assurances from Mussolini himself that they'll remain valued and protected guests in his country, the group (particularly former ambassadorial wife Maggie Smith) have a hard time believing things are going as wrong as they are when the threat of war looms and nationalist youth gangs start terrorising the country and menacing foreigners.

When the war breaks out it it's apparent Il Duce isn't looking after them at all the women have to learn to pull together and help each other. The relationship between Smith and the wealthy American art lover (Cher) is particularly prickly, but she ends up helping them all in ways they don't realise before falling victim to an opportunistic swindler herself.

I didn't realise the boy and subsequent young man is based on the childhood recollections of writer/director Zeffirelli himself. In this case he's our eyes and ears into the lives of the 'Scorpioni', as the ladies were known.

It's very charming, sweet, civilized and has very much a female outlook.

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